View Single Post
  #7   (View Single Post)  
Old 3rd November 2008
DrJ DrJ is offline
ISO Quartermaster
Join Date: Apr 2008
Location: Gold Country, CA
Posts: 507

I'm not in computers directly, so I'll only offer generalities.

Please do get a college degree. Even though computers are still about the only field where you don't *need* a degree, it really helps. And increasingly a BA or BS simply is required, even for positions that in the old days needed none.

It also makes a big difference for promotion. My neighbor, for example, does the IT for a local hospital. He has no college degree, but is a former Marine Master Seargent, where he also learned computers. He does well and is respected, but will not be promoted into management because he has no degree. Another friend in computers also ran into road blocks until she got a degree -- she got one from National (and an MS too). While National is not great, it worked well enough for her.

I second the recommendation for a community college. In California, if you attend one and hold a 3.0 GPA, you have a guaranteed acceptance to one of the University of California or California State University schools. Many people use this method to get into Berkeley or Santa Barbara or UCLA. The education is quite good and very inexpensive, too. You should check to see if your state has something similar.

You should also see whether the schools offer internships, paid or not. Much software I rely on I had ported to my FreeBSD servers by interns at the local junior college. They were not paid, but did an excellent job, and have used a strong recommendation from me to get later, good paying jobs. So look to see if internships are available. They will help you break into the marketplace.

My experience with the trade schools like ITT is that they teach you how to use various tools and programs, but little about why things are done one way or another. You get a much better background with a traditional BS degree -- the breadth is much broader, and you learn more of the "why."

Ph.D.s are useful if you want to do certain kinds of work -- mainly creating really new things. In what I do there are not even any courses at the undergraduate level in any major that teach the physical principles about what I do. At best, someone has heard a term or two on one day as an undergraduate. The good stuff really does come in graduate school. Remember that Bell Labs was full of Ph.D.s, as was the succession of people who wrote BSD over the years. For routine stuff, there really is no advantage to it.

Unlike many, I hold no particular attraction to degrees for people I hire. Much more important is whether the person listens, works hard, is logical, is easy to work with, and can be trusted. For some things a degree helps, but that is no guarantee of knowledge. I have given up on hiring BS biology people, since they have proven to not even know high school chemistry. On the other hand, the fellow who does circuits and electronics for me has a high school degree only. However, he has contributed major portions to Apple computers, and designed many chips for Analog Devices.

Still, the people I work with outside the company, whether they are technical or in business development or work at one of the government agencies to whom I submit grant applications all hold Ph.D.s. In the biological and physical sciences you will work in the lab with a BS degree -- all of management, setting of research direction, and prototype and product design is done by Ph.D.s.

One last thought: higher education is much more than learning some skills that help you to get a job. It exposes you to thought in a range of areas, from literature to mathematics to the sciences and more. It is a wonderful opportunity to learn, and one that is enjoyable and important. Sure, job skills are good. They will come. But the other is perhaps even more important over the long run.
Reply With Quote